Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Remember the old prank? When the unsuspecting clerk would reply “Yes” about his inventory of the popular chewing tobacco tins, the prankster would say, “Then why don’t you let him out!?”
Beaver Cleaver got in trouble with Ward for pulling that on the local grocer but not before he and his chubby buddy, Larry Mondello, phoned another grocer to ask if they had frog legs. When the grocer proudly responded “Yes”, the Beave said, “Well put some pants and shoes on and no one will notice.” The boys then quickly hung up the phone and rolled on the floor in a fit of laughter over their witty comedic success. There must be something about the tween-er years where this simple phone prank can generate such a thrill. It may be evidence of a budding independence.
My daughter, Sarah, then in sixth or seventh grade, was drawn to the rush of a seemingly harmless prank during the idle hours after school.
Equipped with a phone, she and her girlfriend, picked a name at random from the city directory and set their plan in motion. Unbeknownst to the girls, they had picked Marie, an elderly widowed client of mine, who just happened to be an early adopter of Caller ID. While they thought they were hiding behind the anonymity of a random phone call and a lowered tone of their voices – it was my name that appeared in bold letters on Marie’s phone.
On the first call they started to pose a simple double entendre question but got cold feet and hung up. Marie dismissed it as a wrong number or a miss-dial but she had seen my name.
The girls took five minutes to work up their nerve then re-dialed. By this time, Marie had returned to the far end of her home to resume a task. It took quite a few rings before she could get to the phone. The girls made some goofy statement and hung up. Now Marie, tired and frustrated from having to run to the phone for a fake call, looks at the Caller ID again and sees the same perpetrator. She called my office and politely asked through veiled frustration why Craig or his staff would contact her and then hang up. Sensing the edge in her voice my secretary forwarded the call to me and though bewildered, I apologized for the hassle she experienced. While I knew nothing about it – I promised her I would look into the situation and report back to her.
I called home and asked Sue if by chance she had dialed a number in error. No, she hadn’t been on the phone. I asked if she would check on Sarah and she soon found the girls upstairs and yes, they were giggling and they had a phone. I left the office and headed home.
When the girls admitted to making the calls – I sent the friend home – play time was over. While the other girl would not be punished – Sarah was far from being out of the woods.
She froze when I told her we were going that afternoon to visit Mrs. Robinson to apologize. As we got in the car I painted a picture of the ramifications of her actions: The stress on an elderly woman, the frustration in upsetting Marie’s schedule and mine, the potential harm to my business to risk losing a client due to her actions. Sarah rode along quietly as we crossed town to Marie’s. As we sat in the car outside her home, I explained to Sarah what would likely happen in the meeting and what it means to apologize if we wrong someone. This was not a matter of a simple “I’m sorry”, a quick In-and-Out, because too often “I’m sorry” can be a throw away line – like accidentally bumping into a stranger on a crowded street. The guideline for the afternoon meeting was we would not leave Marie’s home until I heard Sarah say the words “Will you please forgive me.” She hesitated. Forgive is not a word commonly used at her age but then this is not about the convenience of youth, this is about a lesson on the road to young womanhood.
I repeated the rule of the day – We will not leave the home until you say those words. If you think there will be a lull in the conversation and then we’ll make an exit, you’ll be forgetting that I know how to talk with people. I talk with people all day long. I can carry on a conversation for a long time and will just keep things going until I hear those words. Is that clear?
We slowly walked the long sidewalk from the curb to the front door. I was encouraged anticipating my client’s sweetness to help us through the visit but Sarah walked to the door expecting to find the electric chair on the other side.
Marie met us at the door and with a cautious smile invited us into her living room. After some pleasantries I began with my apology that my family would cause this situation to occur. After a pause I suggested Sarah had something she wanted to say. Sarah, looking first at the floor, began with a weak apology that included an “I’m sorry” to which Marie offered an obligatory acceptance. She explained why it’s difficult for an older person to move around quickly and the frustration of having to hurry to the phone only to find a prankster involved. She was ready to accept this “sorry” as a technical concession and move on.
But I stalled – Sarah hadn’t met the standard yet. Sarah made another attempt and included an off the cuff “I’m sorry” that sounded more to me like her heart was still hanging on to “how could you get so bent out of shape to cause me this grief, you know the other girl didn’t have to be here.”
After another pause in the conversation I began talking about the family pictures around the room and about some of the artwork she displayed. It was engaging conversation about things important to Marie – but Sarah knew what I was doing. She shifted her position on the ottoman. I asked if there was anything else she wanted to say to Marie. Sarah paused, lifted her eyes to meet those of the beautiful, silver-haired Marie, and said “Mrs. Robinson, I’m sorry this happened . . . and . . . will you please forgive me?” Marie, who never had children of her own, leaned forward and with a perfect grandmother’s smile patted Sarah’s knee. “My dear,” she said, “I’m so proud of you and yes, I forgive you and I honor you for having the courage to come and see me. Would you like to see my art collection?”
Now, in the time it took to complete a simple phrase, Sarah had gone from perpetrator to an honored guest on a home tour. Marie, led Sarah into her bedroom workshop and showed her handiwork of creating decorative ostrich and goose eggs. These exquisite pieces are adorned with sequins and gemstones and complete with hinged doors and windows. They were inspired by the world-famous Faberge’ Eggs collected by early 1900s Russian nobility. Marie’s works of art are another example of the talent often hid among the main streets of our communities.
Marie is rejuvenated in offering forgiveness, making a new young friend and now to be showing her pride and joy artwork. Sarah is gracious in listening to the presentation and is fascinated by the handiwork of the woman who, a couple of hours ago, was an unlisted victim of a prank. What began as a number in the directory has become the code to unlock a door of understanding to Sarah’s future.
And then it happened. Marie took an exquisite finished egg off the shelf, told the story of its creation and the unique problems it presented. And then she turned and presented it to Sarah. “I’d like you to have this, Sarah.” We were both dumbstruck. Sarah hesitated at her unworthiness but Marie affirmed her bravery and maturity in coming forth to apologize. It was humbling to be in the presence of an earthly expression of a heavenly gesture – a gift – undeserved, unmerited, and freely given.
Here’s a link to a favorite speaker of mine, Dr. Kevin Elko, a sports psychologist. This short talk he presented January 30th is called “Separate the Who from the Do” and talks about our reaction to making mistakes. I think you’ll enjoy his thoughts as you start your week.